NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. – Veteran RCMP officer Cpl. Benjamin (Monty) Robinson, whose involvement in Robert Dziekanski’s death and unrelated conviction in a fatal accident made him an example of the bad apples the Mounties have been unable to fire, voluntarily left the force Friday.
Robinson’s discharge papers were signed the same day the disgraced officer was in a British Columbia court for sentencing for obstructing justice following the fatal crash in 2008, said Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens.
“I received Mr. Robinson’s RCMP discharge documents and I signed them,” Callens, the force’s top commander in B.C., said in a statement.
“While I have been clear that I was seeking his involuntary dismissal, the opportunity to discharge him from the organization this morning was one which eliminated further delays, costs and uncertainty.”
Robinson’s discharge means he will no longer face internal discipline within the force, including an RCMP code-of-conduct investigation, but his legal troubles could continue for some time.
The 42-year-old was convicted earlier this year of obstruction of justice after his vehicle struck and killed 21-year-old motorcyclist Orion Hutchinson in Delta, south of Vancouver.
Robinson and three other Mounties are also facing perjury charges in connection with their testimony at the public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death at Vancouver’s airport, where Polish immigrant was stunned with an RCMP Taser.
Robinson told his obstruction of justice trial that immediately after the 2008 crash, he went home and drank two shots of vodka to “calm his nerves.”
The officer had five beers before getting behind the wheel that night. A judge concluded he was using his RCMP training in an attempt to fend off accusations of impaired driving.
At his sentencing hearing in a New Westminster court, the Crown asked for a sentence of between three and nine months in jail or a conditional sentence of up to 18 months. Robinson’s lawyer asked for a conditional sentence of three to six months. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.
“This was not simply an attempt to obstruct justice,” Crown lawyer Kris Pechet told the court.
“It was a successful attempt that effectively misled the officers conducting the investigation of Mr. Robinson, as he knew it would.”
Robinson’s lawyer, David Crossin, submitted a binder containing letters of support for his client. Crossin also described months of treatment for alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder as he argued for the more lenient sentence.
He said Robinson is genuinely sorry for what happened.
“To repair the damage and make amends and seek some kind of healing process … will need a lot of work in this case,” said Crossin.
“It is not just words.”
Robinson, dressed in a suit and tie, stared straight ahead during the hearing, while a packed gallery listened to the submissions.
Asked by the judge whether he wished to address the court, the man stood and uttered one sentence, inaudible to the gallery. After the hearing, his lawyer said Robinson told the court he was “exceedingly sorry” for Hutchinson’s death.
Robinson, meanwhile, wore dark sunglasses and walked briskly from the courthouse to a car, ignoring reporters’ questions.
Earlier, Hutchinson’s father read out a victim impact statement to court.
Glen Hutchinson described becoming mentally unbalanced after his son’s death. He said he lost his career and his relationships with his daughter and wife. He said he has tried to take his own life several times.
“Right now, aside from still being alive, I have nothing,” he said, weeping.
“I will not witness Orion growing old, and there’s a deep pain endured every single day in the struggle to find a purpose in life.”
For him, the trial has been about satisfying society’s need for justice, he said.
“My thoughts go out to the children of Mr. Robinson and all they’re dealing with,” he said.
“I hope they understand that the definition of being human means we make mistakes. But the most important thing is to then take responsibility, accept the consequences and if possible make amends.”
Outside court, Hutchinson’s friends and family talked about the anger they still feel almost four years after the young man’s death.
“It broke apart my family and the people I love, so it’s hurt everybody a lot,” said Kasey Schell, Hutchinson’s step-sister.
“He (Robinson) hasn’t shown any remorse to me or my family, from what I’ve heard. Maybe that would be a different story, if (we got) a heartfelt apology. But his silence so far has been just cowardly to me.”
Friend David Van Den Brink said the sentencing recommendations presented in court weren’t harsh enough.
“A police (officer) should know better,” he said.
“It should be worse. If you’re trained to do something right, it’s really hypocritical if you’re arresting people for this. And then you do the exact same thing and worse, and then you lie about it and you have no remorse for it and you continue to lie. You won’t stand up and take responsibility for your own actions.”
Hutchinson’s mother broke into tears when she heard Robinson was off the force. She had called for the RCMP to fire the officer.
The judge sentence Robinson on July 27.
A year before Hutchinson’s death, Robinson was among four RCMP officers called to Vancouver’s airport when Robert Dziekanski, a new immigrant who did not speak English, started throwing furniture in the terminal after spending 10 hours in the facility.
Dziekanski was stunned repeatedly with a Taser after he picked up a stapler, and Robinson testified at the public inquiry that he ordered one of his officers to use the stun gun because he believed Dziekanski posed a threat.
All four officers were charged last year with perjury for that testimony. Robinson has pleaded not guilty and his trial is currently set for April 2013.
Callens, the B.C. deputy commissioner, has used Robinson’s case to argue for changes to the federal laws that govern the force, which he has complained make it far too difficult to fire officers who behave badly.
Callens has been taking steps to force Robinson out of the force, including announcing this past May that the officer had been suspended without pay. He has said he attempted years earlier to have Robinson suspended from the force, but he said those efforts were rejected by RCMP headquarters in Ottawa.
“I remain committed to exercising my full authority, as the commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP, to address matters of employee conduct in the most efficient manner possible,” Callens said in Friday’s statement.
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has echoed Callens concerns about the RCMP Act, and last month Ottawa announced changes to the law that would give the commissioner greater power to discipline or fire officers.
Concerns about RCMP discipline and accountability have been underscored by several controversies in recent years, most recently allegations of sexual assault and harassment by female Mounties, as well as complaints about abusive behaviour and intimidation by male members of the force.